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Higher Education in Maryland

What is Financial Aid?

You’re getting ready to go to college and you’re looking forward to all the new experiences, making friends, and preparing for your future. You now need to think about how you’re going to pay for it. Now is the time to start thinking about one of the biggest expenses and investments of your life, a college education. 

Every fall, students gather in financial aid offices across the State of Maryland with hopes and expectations only to be surprised at the cost of attendance. If you haven’t given much consideration to financial aid prior to this point, it can be a very frustrating experience. There’s nothing more discouraging than not being eligible for an award because you missed a deadline. Start planning now on how you are going to afford the next few years of your life.

It’s been our experience that if you ask a student how they are going to pay for college, they will say financial aid. Ask them specifically what financial aid program and too many students can only name one or two different programs. Now is the time to learn about the financial aid process and what it involves.

A good place to begin is by understanding the sources and types of financial assistance. There are four (4) basic types of financial aid offered by four (4) basic sources. However, each type has many different programs and that is why it is important to find out which financial assistance programs are best for you. It will make more sense the more you read.

The four (4) basic sources of financial aid are:

  • Federal Financial Aid - the largest source of financial aid that offers (9) nine different aid programs;
  • State - Maryland has 22 different aid programs based on financial need, academic merit, talents, or career choices (some programs require students to complete a specific employment obligation after graduation);
  • Institutional - colleges and universities offer numerous scholarships, grants, and loans to students; and
  • Private Sources - come from many different civic organizations, associations, clubs, foundations, churches, and businesses.

The four (4) types of financial aid are:

  • Grants - awarded to students that show they have financial need.  Grants typically do not require repayment;
  • Loans - a source of aid that must be repaid, usually with interest, after you graduate or stop going to school;
  • Employment - a program where students may work and earn money to help pay for school; and
  • Scholarships - awarded to students based on special talents, skills or high academic achievement.

*Some loan, employment and scholarship programs have need as a requirement.

If you’ve done your research properly, and applied for all programs for which you are eligible, your financial aid package will be a combination of the different types of aid that best fit your educational goal. You’ll have applied for the best financial assistance programs that offer you the most benefits and least amount of debt. Don’t only rely on the financial aid office at your institution to tell you what you are eligible to receive. Have some idea of how financial aid works and learn about what each different financial aid program has to offer. Your college experience will be much better once you have a solid plan on how you are going to pay for it.

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